Dreaming of and scouting a potential North American open-wheel draft

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So last night we had the NBA Draft (more via ProBasketballTalk here), and this morning, we had the announcement of a new team for the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series with a rookie driver in Stefan Wilson.

Because of the rarity of a new team in IndyCar (there hasn’t been one full-time in three years), bringing in a rookie driver, it got me thinking: Who are the blue-chip prospects IndyCar teams could pick if bringing money were no object and the opportunity was there to just pick their drivers on outright talent?

Yes, this will never happen and yes, money remains the calling card to get into IndyCar. I get it, but this is meant to be fun.

It’s probably worth sorting through the prospects first, then envisioning their potential suitors. This is in no particular order, but these are some current and past drivers from the Mazda Road to Indy without a full season of IndyCar experience we should be watching for over the next two-three years:

  • Sage Karam: Has some serious star potential, already four years experience in the Mazda Road to Indy, two championships (USF2000 and Indy Lights) and made a serious case for Rookie-of-the-Year honors at the Indianapolis 500.
  • Conor Daly: Has the name, a single Indianapolis 500 start under his belt, and versatility that’s been unmatched over the last couple years between various series and type of cars he’s raced. He’s hungry for a full-season chance.
  • Gabby Chaves: Has taken the next step in Indy Lights this year, and added sports car racing to his repertoire with testing and racing the DeltaWing. The next possible Colombian star, although he shares dual citizenship with the U.S.
  • Matthew Brabham: Like Daly, has a legendary surname. Fearless, fast and already fairly mature for his age, although he hasn’t been as impressive in Indy Lights as he was on his way to winning championships in Pro Mazda and USF2000.
  • Zach Veach: Veach’s marketing game was long his top selling point, but he’s substantially improved as a driver this year in Indy Lights. Perhaps not the out-and-out fastest prospect, but brings a good package to a team.
  • Luiz Razia: The Brazilian was on the doorstep of Formula One a year and a half ago and has the chops and speed needed to advance next year.
  • Jack Harvey: The Englishman might need another year in Indy Lights if he doesn’t win this year, but has potential.
  • Spencer Pigot: Top American talent in Pro Mazda is probably two years away from IndyCar, but has succeeded in both USF2000 and Pro Mazda.
  • Scott Hargrove: We need another top-level Canadian and the 2013 USF2000 champion is the best Canuck candidate at the moment. Has expanded his horizons to sports cars, and already has bagged three wins in Porsche GT3 Canada this year.
  • Shelby Blackstock: Versatility is his big selling point, having raced Pro Mazda, CTSC GS cars and the Nurburgring 24 this year. Yes, he’s Reba’s son, but he’s got a great work ethic and way of going about developing his career.
  • Garett Grist: Blackstock’s Andretti Autosport Pro Mazda teammate has a win on his belt and is quietly talented. He’s not the first guy you’d pick if you had the chance, but he’s very solid.
  • Neil Alberico: Has shaded Hargrove a bit in Pro Mazda this year. Has potential, but at the moment feels like a driver who – in stick-and-ball terms – had a great freshman or sophomore year but hasn’t made that next level leap.
  • Peter Dempsey: The 2013 Freedom 100 winner hasn’t had a full-time ride this season, so he’s on an unofficial “redshirt” year where scouts would be evaluating him based on his making the most of limited opportunities from 2009 through 2013.
  • Alex Baron: Young French driver perhaps moved up to Indy Lights too soon this year. He could use another year of seasoning before he would declare for IndyCar. That said, has potential and speed to burn based on his USF2000 cameos in 2013.
  • Mikael Grenier: French-Canadian already has a development deal with KV Racing Technology, so he’s halfway in already. Has done fine in limited Indy Lights action.
  • RC Enerson: First of the USF2000 drivers we’d be looking at. Young Floridian’s the equivalent of a college sophomore in racing terms, who’s racing wiser and more mature than he did as a freshman, but still with room to grow.
  • Florian Latorre: French USF2000 sophomore has done the equivalent of transferring colleges, in switching from the Belardi to Cape teams, and has excelled in his new environment. Still two to three years away, but has good racecraft.
  • Jake Eidson: Team USA Scholarship winner is consistent and doesn’t make mistakes, but hasn’t yet found the out-and-out pace needed to be a contender.
  • Aaron Telitz/Peter Portante: The two ArmsUp Motorsports USF2000 teammates are something of a package deal for their mix of humor, racecraft and potential. I’m not sure whether either will ever make it to IndyCar, but they make life fun in the USF2000 series.
  • Daniel Burkett: Same story as above for the Belardi USF2000 shoe, who could parlay his humor and red hair into an opportunity down the road.


If you don’t have a development or junior contract with a Formula One team, or millions in your pockets, it’s going to be hard to make it into F1. So some of these GP2 or GP3 drivers might be worth considering:

  • GP2: Jolyon Palmer, Julian Leal, Stefano Coletti, Mitch Evans, Raffaele Marciello, Tom Dillmann
  • GP3: Alex Lynn, Richie Stanaway, Dean Stoneman, Dino Zamparelli


There’s several drivers – think a Luca Filippi, Martin Plowman, James Davison, Pippa Mann, and on down the line – who have had IndyCar race experience over the last few years but never a full season in the championship. You’d like to see them have a shot, but I wouldn’t factor them into this hypothetical, completely fictional draft.


Now, obviously, there’s more drivers worth watching than there are available seats. Where could these prospects land over the next few years?

  • Target Chip Ganassi Racing: Figure Tony Kanaan has in the neighborhood of two to three years left, likely, so the potential of a seat in one of the marquee Target cars could become available.
  • Team Penske: Two seats are possible, if Helio Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya opt to hang it up sooner rather than later.
  • Andretti Autosport: A seat only opens here if one of the team’s four drivers moves on. But Michael Andretti has an internal ladder system and could easily promote a Brabham, a Veach or a Blackstock two or three years from now.
  • Schmidt Peterson Motorsports: If Simon Pagenaud was to move up to another team, perhaps a spot opens here?
  • Dale Coyne Racing: Always a possible seat here in the second car.
  • Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing: Much as was done for Josef Newgarden, here’s a perfect place for a youngster to learn and develop if Newgarden gets the call up to a bigger team.

Again, this is purely hypothetical, but is interesting to project over the next couple years if and when there’s a changing of the guard on the grid.

Ferrari F1 chief Arrivabene ‘honored’ to be working with Haas

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 21: Esteban Gutierrez of Mexico driving the (21) Haas F1 Team Haas-Ferrari VF-16 Ferrari 059/5 turbo on track during practice for the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 21, 2016 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
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Ferrari Formula 1 chief Maurizio Arrivabene says he is “honored” to have been working with the Haas team through its debut season in the sport.

NASCAR team co-owner Gene Haas saw his F1 operation make its grand prix debut in Australia back in March, with Romain Grosjean finishing sixth on debut.

The Haas team arrives in Austin, Texas this weekend for the United States Grand Prix, becoming the first American outfit in 30 years to be racing on home soil.

Haas has enjoyed an extensive technical partnership with Ferrari through its debut season, with part of the deal seeing Esteban Gutierrez race alongside Grosjean.

Speaking in Friday’s FIA press conference, Arrivabene expressed his happiness with the Haas partnership, saying the American team’s approach to F1 is an example that could be followed.

“I’m happy about our partnership with Gene. And also, I have to say, honored, to work with Haas,” Arrivabene said.

“The reason why is that it’s an example to follow. In the way that they come in, they are investing in Formula 1, they trust in Formula 1, they are very serious, very committed.

“In many, many years I saw people coming in, taking here or there some points, having the money in the pocket and leaving.

“Team Haas is not like this. It’s an example to follow in the way that they come in, they have an objective, they’re working for their objective and they have a long-term commitment.

“So, I’m more than pleased and I repeat, honored to work with a team like this. Formula 1 needs serious people.”

The other team bosses in the press conference also offered complimentary remarks about Haas’ debut season.

“I think they’ve had a great first year,” Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said.

“First of all, it’s super to have a credible team on the grid. Haas has got a great track record in motorsport in this territory and to come into Formula 1 is no insignificant challenge.

“So, to have come in, to have come in credibly and efficiently and gone about scoring a good portion of points, being competitive, I think it’s very, very positive.”

“The track record of Gene in the States speaks really for itself and how they’ve done in the first year is impressive,” Mercedes’ Toto Wolff added.

“Like Gene said, we’ve been around for many years and he’s competing against teams who have built-up infrastructure and capability over decades and doing as good in the first year is really good.”

“I think they’ve done a great job and in particular because they are ahead of us so they are some form of nightmare to us, to the championship,” Renault’s Cyril Abiteboul joked.

“Mostly I think it is interesting because they are showing that, as always, the points you are taking at the start of the season are very important. They almost count twice or three times more.

“Also, that in Formula 1 it’s important to have planning and preparation time. So it’s quite different and in contrast to our situation at Renault, where we sort of arrive in Melbourne in a bit of a panic mode, unprepared, with more resources.

“So it’s all to the credit of Gene and his team, but I think they are compensating, through planning and a clever business model and the relationship with Ferrrari, the lack of resources that they have in comparison to other teams.

“The challenge obviously is to make that sustainable on the long run. That’s obviously what I wish to the team.”

Sauber decision to keep 2016 power units for ’17 ‘not financially driven’

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 21: Marcus Ericsson of Sweden driving the (9) Sauber F1 Team Sauber C35 Ferrari 059/5 turbo on track during practice for the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 21, 2016 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
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Sauber Formula 1 boss Monisha Kaltenborn says that the decision to stick with 2016-spec Ferrari power units for the 2017 season is “not at all financially driven”.

Kaltenborn confirmed over the Japanese Grand Prix weekend that Sauber would not take updated power units for 2017 from Ferrari, saying the team preferred to focus on other areas of development.

“We know there is a big [regulation] change coming up and with the size we have and the capacities we have, we needed to focus on that change,” Kaltenborn explained further on Friday in Austin ahead of the United States Grand Prix.

“We didn’t want to wait for that long, whatever changes might come on the engine side or not. It’s clear that the engine supplier wants to develop as much as he can until the end of the possibilities, and we didn’t want to wait that long.

“We decided to work around what we know. We have sufficient information on that environment around the engine. So we can now focus totally on the chassis side and on performance development.”

Sauber has struggled financially in recent years, but had its long-term future secured over the summer when Longbow Finance completed a takeover of the operation in Switzerland.

While the decision to stick with year-old power units may seem like a money-saving exercise, Kaltenborn stressed that this was not the case.

“This is not at all financially driven. This is technically driven and we think it’s the right way ahead for us,” she said.

Toro Rosso has raced with year-old Ferrari power units throughout 2016, and has lost ground in recent races as other teams using current-spec designs have been able to continue development.

Toro Rosso will return to a Renault supply for 2017, making Sauber currently standing as the only team on the grid that will be using 2016 power units beyond the end of the season.

Taylor Swift ready to get into a F1 frame of mind Saturday at COTA

"One Chance" Portraits - 2013 Toronto International Film Festival
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If you’re a fan of both Formula One and singer Taylor Swift, you should be at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas on Saturday.

Swift will perform her only scheduled concert of 2016 after Saturday’s action concludes on the racetrack.

To get her fans even more excited about the concert, Swift – who is apparently already in Austin for rehearsals – took to Instagram earlier this week and posted several videos.

The first clip was a short scene showing Swift playing an acoustic guitar.

At rehearsals @cota_official @f1 #USGP

A video posted by Taylor Swift (@taylorswift) on

The second clip, which she captioned “Band practice,” showed Swift and her band rocking out on her 2012 hit, “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.”

Band practice @cota_official @f1 #USGP

A video posted by Taylor Swift (@taylorswift) on

And then the third Instagram clip shows an exuberant Swift proclaiming, “Hey guys, I can’t wait to see you this weekend in Austin, Texas.”

See you this weekend! @cota_official @f1 #USGP

A video posted by Taylor Swift (@taylorswift) on

Then, as the camera continued rolling, Swift good-naturedly quipped, “Just said that so they don’t go to the wrong place. You know, people get lost.”

The weekend will be special for Swift, 26. Monday marks the 10th anniversary of the release of her debut album.

Also, several reports indicate that she may debut songs from a rumored new album that may be released later this month.

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IndyCar: Tony Kanaan keeps his word, much to fans’ delight

Phoenix International Raceway - Day 1
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Tony Kanaan has long been one of the classiest drivers in the IndyCar world.

He proved that once again – as well as being a man of his word – recently.

Kanaan was slated to speak last Thursday, Oct. 13, to the Boys and Girls Club of Wayne County, Indiana. Among topics he was slated to talk about in the fundraising event were life lessons and the importance of keeping your word/promise.

But Kanaan also had to take part in a Verizon IndyCar Series Firestone tire test at the same time at Gateway Motorsports Park, nearly 300 miles away from the B&GC event in Richmond, Indiana.

Even though he agreed to speak at the club meeting several months ago, Kanaan could easily have simply cancelled. But he went the extra distance by reaching out to former IndyCar driver and two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Arie Luyendyk to substitute for him.

Luyendyk had to travel all the way from his home in Phoenix, but was glad to fill in for Kanaan.

B&GC executive director Bruce Daggy was happy that Luyendyk stepped up, but also “I was sad we weren’t going to have Tony here,” Daggy told “We had invested in it.”

Indeed, Kanaan’s appearance had been heavily promoted, including posted on nearly 20 billboards in and around the Richmond area.

Even with Luyendyk as his fill-in, Kanaan still felt bad about cancelling.

“I hate to make commitments I can’t fulfill,” Kanaan told “I put myself in their shoes. If I was coming to an event to see a person and they didn’t show, I would understand, but I would feel bad. So, I didn’t want to let anybody down, especially in Indiana.”

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That’s when the 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner and 2004 Verizon IndyCar Series champion hatched a plan. Close friend and fellow driver Scott Dixon got on board by chartering a private plane to fly Kanaan from St. Louis to Richmond as soon as the tire test concluded at 6 pm ET.

When the plane landed about an hour later, Kanaan was given a police escort to Richmond High School, where the event had been moved to accommodate the large crowd when it was announced Kanaan would be the featured speaker.

“I just felt that there is always a way and we would make it happen,” Kanaan said, even though he arrived close to the event’s scheduled conclusion. Instead, his arrival extended the event, to the glee of those in the audience.

“The guy chartered a plane,” Daggy said. “That tells me he is a real man of character.”

Added Kanaan, “Getting me here was everybody’s effort. I had a blast. It was worth it.”

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